Director Franco Zeffirelli’s production of La Bohème, is, to me, the very height of traditional opera. He captures both the details and spirit of 1830s Paris, the exact time in which the opera is set. There’s a gesture in the direction of realism – we see real places from unusual and oblique angles. But there’s also a nod in the direction of Romanticism – these places are rendered with a misty painterly touch. Gorgeous.
And I’m not just talking about the scenery either. Amidst a realistic crowd scene showing the bustle of Paris, a soprano begins a beautiful aria, and suddenly all of the hurrying crowd stops moving. Zeffirelli is a master of stage effect and his use of it here is every bit as artful and painterly as the haze of falling snow.
Ramón Vargas’s Rodolfo was strong and solid, confident throughout his range, conveying more than anything his character’s warm compassionate core. Barbara Frittoli’s Mimi was affecting as well, even if vocally she seemed insufficiently warmed-up in the first act.
Ana María Martinez gave us a Musetta that was all sparkle and heat, both visually and vocally. The supporting cast were notable above all for their acting skill; Levente Molnár was a expansive and charming Marcello, Christian Van Horn a dryly amused and amusing Colline, and Alexy Lavrov a cheerful and soulful Schaunard. Paolo Carignani conducted with great zest and brio, creating a seamless bond between singers and orchestra.
The late, great Zeffirelli has created a very seductive world where I was happy to spend three hours. The production in general, and the performances of this cast in particular, are thoroughly entrancing. Recommended.
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To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.